Flood waters slow down firefighters as house burns

YORK TWP. As if fighting house fires wasn't tough enough -- try fighting one that can't easily be re
Cory Frolik
May 24, 2010



As if fighting house fires wasn't tough enough -- try fighting one that can't easily be reached.

That was the unique situation facing firefighters Tuesdayafternoon when they responded to a house fire at 1257 County Road 308 in York Township.

They had trouble getting to the home because the surrounding roads were washed out from the recent flooding.

"The accessibility of the property wasn't easy for personnel, equipment or anybody,"Bellevue fire Chief S.D. Barr said.

Firefighters from several departments, including Clyde, Bellevue and Margaretta,had to think fast.

Seeing that a portion of County Road 219 was shut down because of flooding, fire trucks cut across County Road 175 and took Northwest Road to another entry point of County Road 308.

The trucks then rolled across a field behind the home to reach the scene.

By the time firefighters started hosing down the burning home, it was too late. The multiple-story structure was fully engulfed in flames, and they were not able to get the fire under control until nearly two hours after the initial call was made.

Flames shot through the windows and ate through the roof. The roof collapsed and so did the garage, crushing the sport utility vehicle in the driveway. The insides of the home were a reduced to charcoal-black rubble.

Compared to most house fires, this was a nightmare, authorities said.

"We were lucky to get those trucks in at all," Barr said.

The field the trucks came through was soaked through just a week earlier. Firefighters said they doubt the vehicles could have driven across it as easily if the fire had occurred then.

Homeowner Jeff Phipps said the fire ignited shortly before noon when he was cooking in the kitchen and ran upstairs to grab something. When he returned, Phipps saw the grease pan had caught fire, spreading flames through his kitchen.

Attempts to put out the fire were unsuccessful.

"It didn't work. So I tried carrying the pan out as I was heading to the back," Phipps said.

Then he dropped the pan.

After that, his focus turned to what he could salvage.

A small pile of belongings sitting outside the home was all Phipps was able to remove before succumbing to smoke inhalation. He was taken to The Bellevue Hospital to be treated.

Phipps has lived at the home with his wife, Raelene, and his three children since 2000. They were in the process of remodeling the floors and kitchen.

All the flooding in the area had led Phipps to build a make-shift road extending from County Road 308 to just short of his porch. He was about 100 feet from finishing it.

If it had been completed before Tuesday, it is possible his home would not have been a total loss, because it would have provided firefighters a straight shot to their destination.

"I guess it took so long to get help because of the flooding, that a minor fire becomes a major fire by the time they could get here," said Phipps' neighbor Charles Boles.

Boles said Phipps has had a miserable time since the flooding began. He was out on a boat crossing the lake of water separating his home from County Road 308 when it flipped over, and he developed hypothermia, Boles said.

But all the problems have not deterred Phipps, who said he loves the area.

"We'll end up rebuilding in the same place," he said.

Timing is everything in effectively extinguishing blazes, Barr said. Anyone whose home is in an isolated area is encouraged to contact emergency responders to provide them with the best route to the emergency.

"It would be helpful, but of course, it would not make it easier," he said.

Authorities say this was the first time the flooding has hampered response measures.